When I was 19, I had a drug related nervous breakdown and ended up in the hospital for 10 days. I wasn’t physically addicted to anything, but the drugs I had been taking caused 4 days of insomnia which in turn, drove me absolutely out of touch with reality. I was the crazy girl walking through the student union in her pjs & bare feet. Yep, that was me.
I still remember all of my delusions.
My family nurtured me with forgiving love and I recovered after several months. Life went on. But a big fear of mine remained insomnia. I kept Tylenol PM in the house at all times.
My whole life up through & including my early twenties, when I came to my mom with what ever ailed me: the stress of being too busy, the pain of a broken heart in various stages of fracture or mend, trivial complaints about whomever happened to be annoying me the most that month, blanketing existential angst or the worst — the solid heavy ache of deep loneliness, it would not be unusual for her to ultimately tell me she’d be praying for me.
I heard it knowing that was her way of expressing her love, and receiving her love has always been comforting to me. The prayer cliche felt empty, though. I considered it a placebo. Like a well intended wish to levitate a car to change a flat tire when there’s no jack around.
Somewhere along the way that changed for me. I’m not sure exactly how, but I can tell you that my muscles for self relaxation are so toned that several times in the last year, I’ve been able to ward off insomnia, not with my old friend Tylenol PM, but with prayer. I even ask myself, How on earth did that happen? How did I become someone with “an active prayer life”? The phrase alone makes me cringe.
The time line looks like this:
Around 9 years old: felt something great while praying Laura Ingalls style alone in my room.
Age 13: inspiring confirmation class with an expertly philosophical protestant pastor & subsequent confirmation.
Age 16-24: adamant disapproval of all organized religions.
Age 27: started therapy with an amazing psychologist and promptly ignored her first bit of advice – to start yoga classes.
Age 28: started hiking in the hills alone on a regular basis for the sheer pleasure of it.
Age 31: started yoga classes.
Age 32: experienced the physical transformation of losing 48 pounds.
Age 34: began attending a Presbyterian church & got hooked up with some amazing teachers & mentors.
I love the way spiritual journeys work. Because I didn’t even know walking in solitude & nature was a formal discipline. But some of my biggest ah-ah moments – moments with God, frankly – were out on those trails. I found divinity in the tree bark, in the dirt under my feet, and in myself. I surrendered to it, and I awakened to the process that’s happening to me.
It’s fun to watch my muscles strengthen. These days, when I wake up at 2:30am with a mind racing with anxiety, I think, “Release” and visualize handing over every stressful thought like a bundle of dirty laundry. And before I know it, I’m sleeping. Release. I cannot remember the last time I actually felt lonely. It’s been years. The peace does transcend understanding.